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Finally, Jackrabbits set to take the field
Making the trip to Delaware worth the wait will be the goal when South Dakota State opens its 2010 football season today.
The Jackrabbits are coming off a season that ended with an FCS playoff berth in just the program’s second season of eligibility. And they will begin this campaign with newfound respect, as evidenced by a No. 9 ranking in the division’s two main polls.
But patience has been needed. While just about everyone else who puts on a helmet and pads in college was punching the gas pedal on a new season last Saturday, the Jacks were still idling at the light.
No more waiting today. The Jacks open the season with an FCS bang, taking on the 16th-ranked Blue Hens (1-0) in Newark, Del., in the first-ever meeting between the two teams.
“We’re definitely getting antsy,” said SDSU running back Kyle Minett, who is seeking his third straight 1,000-yard season. “We’re sick of all the practicing and everything and ready to take on Delaware.”
The Jacks will face a team with a strong FCS tradition - the Blue Hens won a national title in 2003 and lost in the finals in 2007. Delaware, a perennial contender in the Colonial Athletic Association, defeated NCAA Division II West Chester 31-0 in its opener last week.
“We’re looking forward to the game for a lot of reasons,” SDSU coach John Stiegelmeier said. “We’ve never been out there before, we’ve never played anyone in that league. We’ve read about them, heard about them and we see that they get to the playoffs a lot.”
Delaware has evolved into sort of a “Quarterback U” under coach K.C. Keeler.
Joe Flacco, the starting quarterback of the Baltimore Ravens, led the 2007 team to an 8-3 record in his second season with the Blue Hens after transferring from Pitt.
More urgently, as far as the Jacks are concerned, is that the Blue Hens now boast another highly regarded signal-caller in Pat Devlin, a transfer from Penn State who threw for more than 2,600 yards last year and led the CAA in total offense.
“He’s a veteran quarterback, rated fourth-best in the NFL draft right now,” Stiegelmeier said. “It’s not only the God-given ability with him - you can see on film that he makes the right decisions on the field.”
The Blue Hens, who finished 6-5 last year, are picked to finish fifth in the 10-team CAA, which boasts seven schools in the top 25 right now.
The league has placed a team in the FCS finals for the last three years, and with some level of conviction can claim to be the top FCS conference in the nation.
The Jacks know what it could mean to carry a win over a CAA team through the season.
“We’ve talked about it as a staff and with the players,” Stiegelmeier said. “As you go down the playoff path, if we’re lucky enough to be in the playoff picture, people will look at who you played against from other leagues. If you fared well, that makes a difference.
“There is always going to be some subjectivity at the end, and at that point you’ll see people comparing how the Jackrabbits did against the Blue Hens.”
SDSU, 8-4 a year ago with a crazy playoff loss to Montana in its last time on the field, will take on the Blue Hens with five returning starters on offense and five on defense.
While Minett has been at the center of the Jacks’ offense for the last two years - and returns as a Walter Payton Award candidate - most eyes will be on quarterback Thomas O’Brien.
The sophomore emerged as the starter during the 2009 season and returns as the No. 1 from Day 1 this season.
“He’s better because he works tremendously hard,” Stiegelmeier said. “We’ve had some great quarterbacks and I don’t know if he’s great yet, but he’s very good for us.
“This week I saw him going over film with all the receivers on his own time - that’s just not the kind of thing you can make kids do. He’s internally driven. He’s come a long way since that first interception against Cal Poly last year.”
No one will say O’Brien and his teammates didn’t get enough practice time in preparation for Delaware – and that, ironically, could make this late start in 2010 even more challenging.
“The positive thing is that we already have a week of film on them from this season, and we can see what changes they’ve made from last season,” Minett said.
“The disadvantage is that they’ve already played a football game, and we’ve just had practices. There are critical adjustments that take place between the first and second game of the season, and they’re already taking care of those.”
SOUTH DAKOTA STATE (0-0) vs. DELAWARE (1-0)
WHEN/WHERE: 12:06 p.m. (CT), Delaware Stadium, Newark, Del.
RADIO: WNAX-AM 570; KBFS-AM 1450 (Belle Fourche), KJJQ-AM 910 (Brookings),
KOLY- AM 1300 (Mobridge), KGFX-AM 1060 (Pierre), KRKI-FM 99.5 (Rapid City),
KWAT-AM 950 (Watertown)
VIDEO: Free video will be available through the University of Delaware at
COACHES: SDSU, John Stiegelmeier 13th year (83-60); Delaware, K.C. Keeler 9th year (63-39)
SERIES: This is the first-ever meeting
RANKINGS: SDSU is ranked No. 9 in both the Sports Network/Fathead.com and
FCS Coaches Poll this week. Delaware is ranked No. 16 in the Sports Network poll and No. 17 in the coaches poll.
By Mick Garry, Argus Leader